When Annabel's father and mother were killed by terrorists in Kenya, the only bright gleam in the gloom of Annabel's future was the thought of Aunt Evelyn. Her mother had told her such a lot about Aunt Evelyn, who was so pretty and so gay; and now Annabel and the two younger ones, Mary and Robert, were to go back to England to live with Aunt Evelyn, who had come back from America specially. For although Aunt Evelyn had quarrelled with Annabel's parents, or at least with her father, now she was to be the children's guardian and look after them. Annabel's mother had sighed and grieved over the quarrel, and tried to excuse and explain both sides to the children, and eventually it had never been spoken of, but Annabel had never forgotten it. It was all about a party dress, it seemed, a party dress for Annabel which Aunt Evelyn had sent. Annabel's father had flown into a rage and said that he wasn't accepting charity from anyone - what he couldn't afford to buy for the children, the children could do without, and the dress had to be sent back immediately. Annabel had been sorry about this, because one of the things that he couldn't afford was a party frock; she had never had a proper party frock - and this one was so pretty - pale pink organdie with frills. Her mother had made her a frock of spotted muslin, which was very nice, but it wasn't pink organdie, and Annabel had always felt that anyone who could have chosen a pink organdie frock with frills must be a very nice sort of person. But Aunt Evelyn's letters had ceased from that time, and so had her exciting parcels.
From SUSAN'S HELPING HAND, Prologue. A very unusual and downcast start for a Jane Shaw book, particularly in the Susan series. Belle, as she's known in most of the rest of the book, is a tragic figure, quite out of keeping with most of the author's characters. This prologue is one of the very few occasions in the Susan series when the main protagonist herself is absent. There is another prologue in Where is Susan? But although she is not a participant, at least she gets mentioned. So Susan's Helping Hand gets off to an unconventional start, but once the cousins step in, things start to pick up. In fact, this story contains my favourite scene from the series, when Susan is unable to control the runaway lawnmower on Cousin Barbara's farm. This book is packed with action; in addition to the mysterious Belle and trying to help the little woman who runs an unprofitable local antique shop, the cousins are also up against the so-called Mad Collector.